Red Deer farmers fight gravel pit

SPRUCE VIEW, Alta. — Rural neighbours of a proposed project in Red Deer County to convert 122 acres of cropland into a gravel pit continue to voice opposition.

On April 25, the county council will entertain second and third reading of a land-use bylaw that would allow gravel mining as a permitted use on the site, located east of Spruce View at the confluence of the Red Deer, Medicine and Little Red Deer rivers.

Neighbouring property owners are not impressed.

“That well would be the first to go,” said rancher Dale Christian, pointing to a solar-powered well used to provide fresh water for her family’s beef cows when they are brought in for calving.

On the west side of the proposed gravel pit, Adele McKechnie ran a glass of fresh water from her kitchen faucet while talking about the fear she and her husband, John, share with the Christians, who have battled a series of gravel mining applications over the past 27 years.

This time around, instead of dealing with yet another development permit, the neighbours are fighting a bylaw that would change the parcel’s zoning designation.

If that happens, neighbours would lose all avenue of appeal because gravel mining would be considered a permitted use and no longer subject to council approval, said Adele McKechnie.

The Christians and McKechnies predict the loss of good cropland and their wells, which are dug into the river delta’s alluvial plain at depths of five to six metres, if gravel mining is permitted.

Aside from noise, dust and traffic, they worry about changes in flood patterns and bank erosion from the Red Deer River.

They point to a plan that would include berms around the site and a 165 metre buffer zone, measured from their wells.

John McKechnie said the setback is insufficient and the berms would not prevent flood damage. Instead, it would divert it and make it worse by channeling flood waters into a narrower path.

Previous floods have already proven the river’s might, carrying firewood from McKechnies’ yard across the field to collect along the Christians’ west fence line, washing across Highway 54 and taking out sections of a county road south of the highway.

The Christians and McKechnies plan to speak against the bylaw during a public hearing set for April 25.

The delta straddles Highway 54 between Spruce View and Innisfail, roughly 40 kilometres southwest of Red Deer.

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